I see a lot of church advertising these days. Many churches are utilizing billboards, print ads and social media for the purpose of outreach. I love the concept of utilizing creative spaces to advance the kingdom. However, there is something unsettling about public ads that advertise with slogans such as:
- “In-depth preaching”
- “Contemporary and traditional services”
- “Bible studies for the whole family”
Don’t get me wrong. I love all of those things. Preaching, corporate worship and Bible study are all high on my list. And no, I don’t think the church should hide what we are doing.
However, it strikes me as odd when a church’s outreach efforts advertise elements that only believers would be interested in. That doesn’t mean unbelievers don’t need it—it just means they don’t know they need it—yet.
As I see it, this kind of advertising implies one of three things about the church:
- The church assumes we live in culture familiar with Christianity. Churches must realize that we no longer have the luxury of living in a culture that is familiar and friendly to the church. Reaching unbelievers requires us to think like a missionary overseas attempting to reach a people group with no concept of church life. Certainly we would laugh if such a missionary posted a billboard in such a land that proclaimed “In-depth preaching,” “Contemporary and traditional services” and “Bible studies for the whole family.” American churches must begin to look at their communities in the same way.
- The church wants to reach church people only. Of course there is nothing wrong with someone coming from another church to join your congregation. We expect no less when believers move to a new town. However, that does not mean it should be the sole focus of the church’s outreach. To the contrary, the church’s outreach should focus on nonbelievers!
- The church has not thought through its outreach strategy. Churches often emulate other churches, our peers, without fully understanding the “why.” The reasoning may go like this: “If the church across town purchased billboard advertising, we should too.” For the first church, the purpose of the billboard may be a part of a great commission strategy to reach unbelievers. But for the second church, the purpose shifts to following a trend. The next thing you know, a committee has been formed, and the list of items to mention on the billboard grows into a laundry list of church programs, service times, facility pictures and contact information. Why? Because when there is no “why,” anything (and everything) sounds like a good idea.